Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Town Russells up support

Skeleton racer Montgomery has community, family backing

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WHISTLER, B.C. -- It can be overwhelming, waiting for a moment like this for the better part of seven years. Muscles are taut, the nerves are frayed, the heart pounds in your chest.

Imagine, then, what an Olympic athlete must feel like...

So there was Eldon Montgomery -- the proud father of skeleton medal contender Jon Montgomery -- in full nervous pace mode several hours before he was to head up to the Whistler Sliding Centre for his son's first two races late Thursday night.

"We have good seats in the stands," Eldon began, "although I don't know how much I'll be sitting at all later."

And, try as she may, his wife Joan and daughters Jodi and Jill -- part of 18 members of the Montgomery clan gathered here -- were all bouncing around outside Canada House like kids on Christmas Eve.

"He's worked hard and he's got himself to a spot right now and I hope the bubble doesn't burst for a few more days," said Joan. "But he's right where he wants to be, I know that."

Meanwhile, back home in Russell, Man. -- right there at the junction of Highway 16 and Highway 83 near the Saskatchewan border -- a good chunk of the town had gathered at The Russell Inn to take in the action in front of a giant screen late Thursday.

These are the same folks who organized a size large pep rally for Jon this past summer that involved five schools from the region as part of one of those wonderful small town grass-roots efforts that make you feel warm and fuzzy all over.

And they called the movement, fittingly enough, Mission Montgomery.

So as Thursday night approached the countdown for so many with an emotional stake was into its final seconds.

5... 4...3...2...1

"What is 'Mission Montgomery?' Well, we just wanted to throw Jon a town pep rally and it just sort of grew on its own," said Terrie Wellwood, editor of The Russell Banner and one of the 'Mission' committee members.

"We've also been printing messages for Jon in the paper and I emailed them all to Jon last Friday. He said it was the boost, the little psychological edge that he needs. That was our whole plan.

"Really," Wellwood added, "no matter what happens (Thursday and Friday) we just want to tell him he's always been a great representative of our town because he always makes sure to tell everybody he's from Russell.

"He's a great ambassador."

That's the thing about Montgomery, the 30-year-old one-time auctioneer-slash-daredevil-slash-free spirit. He is so engaging and so enthusiastic his personality instantly rubs off on people he meets like some sort of magical pixie dust.

So when a family rallies around him, then an entire town, province and -- as word spread of his practice runs, an entire country -- it doesn't surprise any of those close to him.

"He's always liked to be the centre of attention," Joan proudly explained. "He's got two older sisters. He's always been the baby. They adore him and they laugh at everything he says whether it's funny or not. He thrives on that and that's part of why he's doing well.

"But he also needs his own space. He's no dummy. He always knows what he has to do and what he can't do, to make it work. We don't talk about it. We don't want to jinx it at all. He said it's going to be a tight race. He knows that."

That's why the only real communication the Montgomerys have had with their son leading up to the race has been via text messages or emails. Sisters Jodi and Jill called up Montgomery's practice runs on the Internet -- he blistered through six races, posting the top time in each -- but they also knew that the best support they can give is to back off and let him do his thing.

"We hear he's in a zone so we don't want to interfere with anything that might interfere with that," said Eldon. "We might see him after the race tonight for just a minute or two and then (Friday) his mother just wants to give him a big hug regardless of what happens.

"Oh, but he'll be ready," he added, raising his index finger for punctuation. "Believe me, he'll be ready."


Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 19, 2010 C2

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